Google is rolling back a recent Chrome browser update that inadvertently broke the audio in many HTML5-based Web games. But the browser maker says it plans to reimplement the feature in October, a move that has failed to satisfy many Web-based developers.
In a post on the Chromium developer forums, Product Manager John Pallett admits that Google “didn’t do a good job of communicating the impact of the new autoplay policy to developers using the Web Audio API.” For that reason, the current Chrome version 66 will no longer automatically mute Web Audio objects. Content contained in HTML5’s <video> and <audio> tags will still be silenced, though, limiting the impact of auto-playing audio on what Pallett says is “most media playback” around the Web (which was the original intent of the Chrome auto-play policy).
Pallett says this temporary rollback is intended “to give Web Audio API developers… more time to update their code” before the auto-muting is brought back for Chrome version 70 in October. Affected developers will have until then to add a few lines to their code, thus re-enabling the auto-muted audio when a user first interacts with the page.
That’s not a very useful solution for developers who don’t have access to the original code used to make legacy content, though, or those who can no longer update that code on the original servers hosting their work. Then there’s the large bulk of “abandoned” games whose developers may not even be aware that their work is in need of an update or may not have the inclination to make even trivial modifications.
“Unfortunately, the great majority of existing work will not be updated by October, or ever, and so we still face the effective cultural erasure of those works in October,” QWOP developer Bennett Foddy writes in the Chromium thread. “You guys definitely have the power to break everyone’s work, should you wish to exercise that power, but you do not have the power to make people add workarounds to code that they are not able to alter.”
Other developers have suggested methods for stopping auto-playing audio that would be less disruptive to legacy interactive content, such as automatically muting new tabs or warning the user and offering options when a page first attempts to play audio. Pallett writes that Google is “still exploring options to enable great audio experiences for users” but notes that “this is a nontrivial user interface challenge with a lot of nuances.”
That’s not exactly an inspiring message for developers, especially when Google’s default position for the moment seems to be simply reinstating the game-breaking changes in October. Having that kind of status quo failsafe in place could easily lessen the motivation to work out those “non-trivial user interface challenges” in a timely manner.
“I believe Chrome could find a policy which accommodates developers while still protecting the principle users should explicitly authorize websites to play sound,” developer Andi McClure writes in the Chromium thread. “The delay you have announced is a great opportunity to get things right this time.”